Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Vampire Lectures - review

Author: Laurence A. Rickells

First Published: 1999

Contains Spoilers

The Vampire Lectures are the transcripts of the lectures given by Laurence A. Rickells, professor of German Literature at the University of California. They formed his lectures on “Vampirism in German Literature” (though went far beyond that, touching most major films and books of the genre) and doubled as an introduction to psychoanalytic theory.

Now, on the Amazon UK customer reviews are two polar different reviews. One customer bemoans the “as is” nature of the lectures and the lack of references giving it 2 stars. The second customer indicates that if you do not like this you are of a sub-level intelligence and not worthy to read the book and gives it 5 stars.

I mention this as my opinion falls somewhere between the two scores and yet I do not deem myself as sub-level intelligent.

The book, as a reference piece, is fairly useless. This is due mainly to the lack of indexing that would allow you to use the book as a reference piece. However, the book itself contains many interesting ideas and theories and it is a crying shame that a decent index couldn’t have been produced.

The language used is “as is”, these are transcripts and thus the book can be difficult to get in to due to its style. The best description I could find, as I read through the early lectures, was that it reminded me of the style used by the beats – now I love the beats but I do not use a Jack Kerouac book as a reference piece. Perhaps the problem is that these would come across very differently if spoken, rather than read, especially if visual aids were used.

That said, after a while you begin to get used to the style and it certainly isn’t the “joyless endeavour” to get through a chapter that the Amazon customer's negative review indicated.

One problem that I had with the book was the reliance on Freudian theory. Now I will admit that I know only a tiny bit about psychoanalysis theorem but the little I know makes me lean towards Jung and not Freud. It also seems strange that the theories of Ernest Jones, close associate of Freud and author of “On the Nightmare” that included an examination of the psychoanalytical meaning of the vampire in folklore, were conspicuous in their absence. That said, it is interesting to read a Freudian analysis of the genre.

One thing he mentions in the book, that I had honestly not noticed is that, in Stoker's Dracula, Lucy’s hair changes from being described – when alive – as being light coloured, in fact it is described as sunny ripples at one point, to being dark-haired once she is undead. Kudos to Rickels for noticing that. I would also say that his analysis of Carmilla is one of the best I have read.

This is not a simple book, a good knowledge of both the genre and (to be honest) Freudian theory goes a long way to help you get the most from it. As I have said, the lack of an index also hampers its usefulness as a reference work. Because of the short comings I’m giving this 6.5 out of 10.

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